This Climate Control Takes Its Cue From Your Skin

Car air conditioners are supposed to cool the passengers, not just the air around them. But current systems can't distinguish between a driver who has been sitting inside with the AC on for 20 minutes and one who just entered a cool car from the outside. That's because even in today's advanced systems, sensors measure only inside air temperature, solar radiation, and external air temperature.

Engineers from Japanese companies Nippondenso Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. have developed more sophisticated controls that measure the driver's skin temperature. An infrared sensor mounted on the roof above the windshield relays skin temperature readings to a computer that compares the figure to a target temperature set by the driver. It then adjusts the air conditioner automatically. However, don't look for it on next year's Lexus. Tests so far have all been laboratory-based. Toyota researcher Yousuke Taniguchi doesn't expect to see the system in a production car until the next century.